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October 18, 2013

Volunteer spirit alive on Make A Difference Day

MEADVILLE — Make A Difference Day is both fulfilling and frustrating to long-time volunteers like Meadville resident Bob Eidell — fulfilling in service to the local needy and frustrating only by the limitations of what can be done.

“You don’t do it to feel good, but you do anyway,” Eidell said, reflecting on his year-round participation with the Community Improvement Center, an organizational by-product of MADD.

Having worked for the Department of Public Welfare for roughly 30 years, Eidell entered a life of community service with a relatively clear understanding of the area’s needs.

“You hear the stories,” he said, noting his last few years before retirement were spent in the county’s assistance office. “Homeowners in that group have the most difficulty maintaining a home.”

Often unable to afford or make repairs on their own, the county’s elderly, poor and infirm may require assistance to retain the basics of livability and comfort.

“That’s sort of where we come in,” Eidell said. “I’ve never worked in the building trade myself, but I’ve done my own roofing, plumbing and flooring.”

Although a professional skill set is preferential and often times required to complete more complex projects, willingness to work and dedication to community are the basics for bringing volunteers on board, Eidell observed.

His first time volunteering for MADD consisted of a porch roof restoration with some unexpected turns.

“I didn’t think it was going to be a huge project,” he said. “But with any roofing project, you never know what’s up there until you tear it off.”

Eidell recalled muddling with fellow volunteers, mostly Allegheny College students, through rotten wood, carpenter ants and one worker’s attempt to overcome a fear of heights before the project’s completion.

The experience must’ve been worth it, since Eidell has continued to act on the community’s needs for about the past decade through MADD and the CIC.

Effective chemistry between long-time community volunteers like Eidell and Allegheny students comprises the “magic of Make A Difference Day,” according to Dave Roncolato, MADD organizer.

“It’s a building block to a healthy community,” he said. “The 20-year legacy of (MADD) represents the vitality of the Meadville community and its spirit of generosity and commitment.”

As the college’s director of community service, Roncolato appreciates the lessons Allegheny students learn from their volunteer efforts.

“The students build relationships that last long beyond this day,” he said, “not only with the people they serve, but with the people they work alongside as well.”

If done right, Roncolato added, MADD efforts blur the line between those being served and those serving.

“I’ve been really fortunate to know folks willing to provide their time and even go over time,” he said. “A lot of projects go all day and sometimes have to be completed another day.”

Eidell serves mainly as a coordinator these days, but he still likes to get his hands dirty whenever possible.

“During my first experience, I wasn’t aware of the behind-the-scenes workings,” he said. “After the first few years, I was doing site (surveys). That’s where you get hooked.”

Through his continued volunteerism, Eidell saw firsthand the severe condition plaguing many of MADD’s countless potential projects.

“That’s also the depressing part of it, because you know you can’t do them all,” he said. “You can’t always meet the need.”

Some MADD projects are deemed too dangerous for unskilled volunteers while others are passed over because there aren’t enough necessary materials to complete them.

“I wish it weren’t so, but we can’t do steep roofs; sometimes you need a roofer as a supervisor, not me,” he said. “You need the right knowledge, experience and equipment.”

Those roofs leak just as badly as more climbable ones, Eidell said.

The already-extensive preparations required to hold MADD don’t leave much time for fundraising, he added, so volunteers are often grateful to agencies like the United Way of Western Crawford County, which provides funding and support to the CIC.

While MADD is always in need of volunteers, tools and materials, one of the greatest rewards in community service is the appreciation of those served.

“The folks we work for are always so appreciative,” Eidell said. “They express it in different ways; some are reserved, others more demonstrative.”

Gestures of gratitude, as simple as baked cookies or serving lemonade or coffee to volunteers, are indicators of a difference truly made in the community, according to Eidell.

“These are the gratifying parts of the job,” he said. “You see them being able to stay in their homes and make it more livable. If you’re willing, you’ll find it’s very satisfying.”

Seeing the large scope of projects completed also gives Eidell a sense of what can’t be done — a sobering thought at times.

“We certainly encourage anybody with a desire to help other people to get in touch with us (at the CIC),” he said. “There’s a lot more need out there than we can meet, but every volunteer gets us a little closer.”

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